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Becoming a Surgeon in the Civil War

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Becoming a Surgeon in the Civil War

At the beginning of the Civil War, most people thought the war would only last a few weeks or months, so not much effort was put into recruiting doctors or surgeons. The surgeons that were recruited did not have formal training in medicine. They knew little about bacteriology and were ignorant of what caused the killer diseases. Most Civil War surgeons had never treated a gun shot wound or had actually performed surgery. They typically had two years of schooling, with only bookwork in the first year. The second year was usually a review of the first, with little hands-on training. These doctors tried the best they could to treat the wounded soldiers, and their knowledge of medicine improved each year.

Since the demand for surgeons increased dramatically and the war went on, surgeons were recruited from the ranks. Litter bearers carried men off the battlefield. If a litter bearer showed interest in the medical field, he became a steward. A steward's main job was to take care of patients with minor wounds such as, scratches and bumps. Other duties included helping surgeons to pull teeth. Stewards also managed medicines for the surgeons. This job that included guarding the medicinal stores against break-ins by soldiers who wanted the morphine, opium, and whisky that made up the medicinal supplies of the surgeons. If a steward was exceptional in his duties, he might be allowed to assist a surgeon in an operation. This could result in the steward advancing to assistant surgeon. He could then become an experienced and qualified surgeon.



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